Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts on gamer shame

When I went to the Queerness in Gaming Conference, a couple speakers made an analogy between the shame people feel for being queer, and the shame they feel for spending too much time playing video games.

This analogy is sort of a rhetorical trick.  Everyone in the audience already considers queer shame to be mostly bad or unjustified, and the analogy frames the conversation such that we automatically think gamer shame must be equally bad or unjustified.  Nonetheless, I find it to be a good analogy, because it draws "gamer shame" to our attention, and gets us to think critically about it.

Upon reflection, gamer shame is something that has long been present in my life, without me really thinking about it.  I think it's the way I was brought up: my parents always tried to put a limit on how much games me and my brothers played.  Now I replicate those same attitudes towards myself, and towards my boyfriend as well.  Not without my boyfriend's permission of course--he knows he lacks a bit of self control, and that social encouragement is helpful to him.

Gamer shame also comes with a stereotype: the unhygienic middle aged man who still lives in his parents' basement, and plays WoW all day and night.  The speakers made the interesting observation that when people try to show the positive face of gaming, they usually show people playing with friends on a couch.  This image says, "Gaming is a social activity for socially functional human beings."  It's as if gaming is only acceptable when it's on-the-couch multiplayer, and any form of solo gaming is unacceptable.  We can draw a comparison to the way the image used to advocate gay rights is white gender-conforming men in long-term monogamous relationships.

I happen to like on-the-couch multiplayer games a lot, since that's what I would always play with my brothers growing up.  But it's not as if I don't also play games solo.  The fact that one is more socially acceptable than the other seems ridiculous.  Most other media are also consumed alone.  We read books alone.  We listen to music alone.  We watch TV alone.  Movies are often thought of as a social outing, but it's not as if people interact with each other much while they're in a theater.

In general, I think it is good to think of gaming as just another medium.  Spending time on video games is no less worthwhile than reading a novel or watching a movie.

At the same time, gaming is a very unique medium (as all media are unique).  One thing that's very different about video games from other media is that length is usually a selling point.  By contrast, when's the last time a movie was ever advertised as being very long?  I think this is because video gaming often serves the function of killing time, and serves it well.  Video games are usually built to be engaging, compelling, or hard to quit.  This is a great thing, but can also lead to conflicts between what someone wants in the long term and in the short term.  I don't know that "gamer shame" is justified, but surely "gamer self-control" has its uses.

1 comment:

Feng said...

Couldn't agree more, very well said.